Game Over Online ~ Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

GameOver Game Reviews - Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (c) Konami, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (c) Konami
System Requirements Game Boy Advance
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002 at 12:19 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Most people treat Castlevania as Gothic, ex cathedra. It's not. It's Gothic through Japanese lens. Does it make the source material any less enthralling to fans around the world? No, the durability of the Castlevania name is testament to that. In a climate where loud volumes and frenetic tempo is mistaken for action, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is, by contrast, more subdued, rhythmic and elegant. In a period where developers employ overt brush strokes and marquee franchises dominate the lineup of publishers, here's a title that continues to pay meticulous attention to detail. Dissonance's appearance does not come to the mainstream consoles but on the diminutive Game Boy Advance. And this is perhaps the best example to illustrate that the sites of innovation need not be with the most cutting edge hardware.

Dissonance continues the saga of the Belmont family and their storied relationship with Dracula. Simon Belmont had emerged a hero in the original Castlevania stories and now, the proverbial whip is passed on to Juste Belmont, a grandson of the great hero. Whether this mark is a blessing or a curse, Juste will have to find out by encountering Dracula himself. Dissonance uses a very traditional story. Juste's companion, Maxim, convinces him in a battered and bruised state to save a mutual female friend, Lydie. Right off the bat, you'll know that the small Game Boy Advance screen is only room enough for one hero and it is Juste you'll march into Dracula's abode.

The previous Castlevania installment on the Game Boy Advance was Circle of the Moon. It featured the more stoic and reserved Gothic landscapes with emphasis on stone buildings and gray backdrops. Dissonance, on the other hand, develops an affinity towards brighter, more colorful backgrounds. Painted glass has replaced the dreary Gothic and the result is more vibrancy. But there is a double facet to this. It also makes the game a lot easier to see on a handheld that lacks any basic backlight. The aura that surrounds Juste may look artistic and the colorful special effects may give the game an overall flare and style, but they also manage to make the game easier to see for the player. The aura, for example, acts sort of like mouse trails and is a clever design feature that should be duly noted by other developers.

On first glance, Juste has a lot fewer tech toys than the comic book Blade character against vampires. But Juste's arsenal is more subtle. Throughout the course of the game you can collect spellbooks that can be combined with weapons to grant unique powers. These secondary weapons can be used alone. They run on the heart currency system and of course, a lot is available from the infamous shopkeeper who makes his appearance from time to time in Dracula's abode, redefining the word convenience in a convenience store. Further, Juste also has access to a variety of traditional upgrades for his primary weapon, the whip as well as armor and other enhancements.

Much of the weapons Juste holds on to will depict the fighting style you adopt. Some creatures will demand you to use the dash feature while others will require a combination of the above. There is a tremendous amount of care put into the action, particularly the pacing. Dissonance may not be the most creative platform title available but it weaves together scripted events and excellent pacing to make for a fun and absorbing experience. The first level is a classic example of the overall quality you'll come to expect. Initially, a giant creature from behind keeps you moving ahead at a clip pace. This is seconded by a wave of monsters. There are just enough monsters to lead Juste to where he needs to be. Poorly made side-scrolling platform titles have the tendency to either throw too many creatures at you at once, which gives the illusion that there is little artificial intelligence or the designers simply wanted to overwhelm the player by mobbing them. On the other extreme, we have titles that put too few battles in and most of the time you'll be wandering around aimlessly. Dissonance is able to strike a delicate balance between both.

A spectrum of sights and sounds are offered up as Juste delves deeper into Dracula's lair. None of it is too difficult in nature and some may argue that the first go of Dissonance is too easy. It is, in fact, too easy on the first go but the keyword in that statement is first. None of the Konami titles in recent memory appear to offer only one ending. Many of them, like Shadow of Destiny, offer multiple endings and the first play through the story is like going through a Robert Altman film, you're merely there to survey and get a lay of the land. The real work starts afterwards and Dissonance throws up a more difficult mode to do just that but there are still other fruitful avenues to pursue. You can, for example, play through the entire story in the shoes of Maxim instead of Juste, which offers a different style of play. Maxim is hardly as blessed as Belmonts in terms of weaponry but he can still hold his own, albeit in a different fighting style.

There's a lot of depth in Dissonance but you have to be willing to look for it. I'm always curious as to why Konami enlisted the people they did to do this game. It is interesting this follow-up went to developers of the Playstation title. Let's be quite frank, the Game Boy Advance does not harbor the best game developers in the industry. Anyone who has to work on a handheld port of a game released on three big consoles and/or the PC is not likely going to be ranked as a premier maker. With Dissonance, the whole title, from beginning to end, is dripping with stunning production values. Considering the twelve hours you'll likely spend to go through it, this game, vis-a-vis the production values, grossly exceeds what developers put together in two, three or even four other typical Game Boy Advance titles.

The result is a very playable title and in spite of the questionable combination of Gothic terror and Japanese art style, the two seem to be a fait accompli. Totally alien in their respective rights, combined together, they synthesize the best traits from each other to create a gripping and engrossing game that few in the action category have approached in quality thus far. While it may be rather premature to make the following judgment, especially since the holiday season has yet to start, this is the one action platform game you'll want to pick up for Nintendo's handheld. Most people have the conception that Game Boy Advance titles are compromises, compared to buying a full-fledged title on a mainstream console. Dissonance, in its detail, execution and style truly transcends its platform and for now, it's the best seat in the house for a trip to eerie Castlevania.

 

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Rating
92%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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